By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, October 12: Sleuths of the Indian Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) stormed into a “rave party” on a luxury liner off Mumbai on October 2 and arrested Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s son Aryan Khan and several others for illegal possession of drugs. According to the NCB, drugs such as MDMA/Ecstasy, Cocaine and MD (Mephedrone) were recovered from the suspects, all of whom were from well-heeled families.
The arrest of Aryan Khan stood out, setting off a wave of sympathy for the 23 year-old celebrity son. Expressions of support for his parents Shah Rukh Khan and Gowri Khan poured in from the film fraternity. Many top stars called on the distressed couple to comfort them.
To the delight of the sensation-seeking media, the case got complicated with the news that Aryan had no drugs on his person and that three of the arrested youngsters were let off quickly, touching off speculation about their dubious “links”. On top of it all, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activist had participated in the raid and posed for pictures with the celebrity-accused, leading to a charge that the NCB raid was conducted at the behest of the BJP looking for political gain in Maharashtra where it had lost power.
Be that as it may, what cannot be denied is that Bollywood has been on the NCB’s radar for drug abuse since 2020 when an up and coming star, Sushant Singh Rajput, committed suicide. His friend Rhea Chakraborty had spilled the beans about top stars “doing drugs” and the list included Sara Ali Khan and Rakul Preet Singh. Even Deepika Padukone and Shraddha Kapoor were quizzed.
Film makers Vivek Agnihotri revealed in a recent article in First Post that drugs are a must in Bollywood parties. In the film fraternity, it is considered “cool” to take drugs because it is seen as a ticket to enter the charmed circle of top stars, producers and directors. Rhea Chakraborty had told NCB, under arrest, that 80% of Bollywood stars were on drugs. In a recent social media post, even the Hindutva-supporting actor, Kangana Ranaut, confessed that she had been on drugs but reprimanded those sympathizing with addicts because they were celebrities.
Bollywood parents seem oblivious to the ill-effects of drug abuse. In an interview to Simi Grewal in 1997, which is going viral on the social media, Shah Rukh Khan had himself said that he would let his son Aryan (only three years old then), go after girls, drink and do drugs – things he could not do when growing up in conservative middle-class Delhi.
Deeper Social Malaise
While all this is grist to the mill of the Bollywood-fixated, sensation-crazy media, the point that is missed is that drug abuse is and has been a major, widespread and deep-rooted menace in India, and that action has to be taken to curb it. Drug abuse is not a Bollywood monopoly.
“Drug misuse is a pervasive phenomenon in Indian society,” says a report published jointly by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and India’s Ministry of Social Justice. According to this report, cannabis, heroin and opium are the most commonly used drugs but there is an increasing prevalence of methamphetamine too. The number of users who inject drugs has also gone up substantially. There are one million heroin users “registered” in India. But the overall estimate is five million users. About 2.8% of Indians aged 10-75 years (almost 30 million individuals) consume cannabis (bhang, ganja and charas). Delhi has 25,000 school kids addicted to drugs. In some cases, even 8-year-old kids are into it.
The National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, in its report for 2019, stated that there is a sizeable population in India that is affected by substance use disorders and is in need of “urgent” help. About 2.8% of the population (about 28 million) reported having used a cannabis product in the previous year. About 2.1% of the country’s population (More than 20 million) used opioids which includes Opium, Heroin (or its impure form – smack or brown sugar) and a variety of pharmaceutical opioids. Nationally, the most common opioid used is Heroin (1.14%) followed by pharmaceutical opioids (0.96%) and Opium (0.52%).
The estimated prevalence of opioid use in India is “considerably higher” than the Global and Asian average. However, the prevalence of cocaine and ATS use is much lower, the report says. About 0.70% of Indians (approximately 77 lakh individuals) are estimated to need help for their opioid use problems.
While substance use exists in all population groups, it is the adult men who show substance use disorders the most in India. Children and adolescents are also “groups of concern”, the report adds.
Role Entertainment Industry
Bollywood and the entertainment industry in general have a major role to play in the acceptance of the drug culture in the general population. Writing in Firstpost on October 8, Vivek Agnihotri says that studies in America have found that intoxicants figure in nearly half of all music videos with 13% showing drug abuse. Increased consumption of popular music is associated with marijuana use. Teens who watch adult movies are 6 times more likely to try marijuana. Teens who spend time on social networking sites are twice as likely to use marijuana than teens who do not visit these sites. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the US, estimates that in the arts, entertainment, and recreation industry, 13.7% used an illicit drug in the previous month.
Marian Je drezejczak, writing in the journal Military Medicine in 2005, revealed that children from families where authority belonged to mothers and the fathers were weak or absent, were more inclined to drug abuse. In 60% of families of drug addicts the fathers had withdrawn from family life, i.e., either not interested in family matters or had avoided family responsibilities. 55.6% of the investigated addicts thought that their fathers devoted too little time to the family, and by implication, to them, individually.
It is therefore not surprising that young Aryan Khan told the NCB interrogators, with tears in his eyes, that he had to seek an appointment to see his father, the ever-busy Bollywood icon, Shah Rukh Khan.
Data form the 2019 survey confirm that there is a gross mismatch between demand and availability of treatment services for substance use disorders in the country. The National Mental Health Survey (NMHS) reported a high ‘treatment gap’ (i.e. number of people in need of treatment but not receiving treatment) for substance use disorders in India.
Just about one in 37 people affected by alcohol use disorders and one in 20 affected by drug use disorders, have received any treatment, ever, the survey points out.
The 2019 report decries the criminalization of drug use on the ground that it prevents victims from coming out and seeking treatment. Under the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act 1985) personal consumption of controlled drugs is a criminal offence. Similarly, in the states with alcohol prohibition, consumption of alcohol is a criminal act. This criminalization of people using alcohol or substances, enhances stigma and hinders access to treatment. Most addicts (except the very rich and showy) tend to keep their addiction a secret even from their parents or family. Therefore, no treatment is sought.
In line with the recommendations of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), it is important to take necessary steps to minimize the stigma and get addicts to go for treatment, the report urges.